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Debris collection still at forefront of Lee County's efforts; public debris site opens on Pine Island; 5M cubic yards collected

Lee County
Special to WGCU
Debris collection truck along a Lee County roadway

Debris left in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Lee County is still being collected, but aspects of that collection are changing almost daily.

Sites for residents to drop off self-hauled debris have closed in some areas of the county and opened in others.

Meanwhile, the county reached another milestone this week with 5 million cubic yards of debris collected – almost three times more than was collected after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

That much debris is enough to:

  • Fill Hertz Arena to the ceiling 13 times
  • Fill the 1,250-foot Empire State Building 3.5 times
  • Cover 781 football fields with 3 feet of debris

Douglas Whitehead, director of Lee County Solid Waste, said the collection of debris in the county is a fluid-type situation with material being moved out of all the piles across the county.
As an example, he said the collection location at U.S. 41 and Coconut Road has a lot less coming in, so the net on that is decreasing as trucks move material to final disposal at the landfill and the site moves closer to being closed eventually.

"We will close it as soon as possible," Whitehead told WGCU. "I think you know that we announced last week that as of last Friday (Dec. 16) we asked residents to stop putting storm debris at the curb in Lehigh and Gateway. And as we progress, we will ask more areas to do that. We'll have announcements coming in the next couple of weeks."

The collection of debris in Lee County has been significant with that 5 million mark being reached and likely exceeded this week. Whitehead said that total is a reflection of how far the county's collection has come.

Hurricane Ian left behind an estimated 10 million cubic yards of debris countywide, including debris in all six municipalities.

"In terms of gross material, I think that we are at about 80 percent complete," he said. "In terms of time or the areas that are, you know, hit by storm surge, there will be continued material to come out for weeks to come. In addition, there is this program called Personal Property Debris Removal, which the state is running, that involves demolition of houses that may take a very long time."

With Christmas looming this weekend, Whitehead said the extra trash produced from gifts unwrapped and packaging unboxed will be handled in the normal way with other trash.

"We are collecting garbage service including yard waste service, that is not debris-related, at all the homes," he said. "So, correct is that they should not mix that with debris, that should be put out with either regular garbage or recycling. We can recycle wrapping paper. We don't want to recycle things like bows and ribbons."

For after Christmas, when natural trees are placed out, Whitehead said regular garbage service will collect those.

"They will be recycled using our mulch and composting facility," he said.

Whitehead said the volume of debris collected from Ian has been unprecedented.

"Particularly the demolition material," he explained. "Since Hurricane Andrew, it's just a tremendous amount. We're getting over 330 tons of household hazardous waste. Things like bleach and cleanser and fertilizer."

Specialized trucks working continuously in unincorporated Lee County have removed 118,625 loads of debris from roadsides since collection began Oct. 4.

Crews have now cleared debris from 4,400 miles of Lee County roads. That’s nearly the distance from Fort Myers to London, England.

Crews have cleared more than 133,000 cubic yards of sand from local roads that is being used to re-nourish county beaches and 52,776 cubic yards of vegetative and structural debris from waterways.

The county said crews will continue to collect and provide each neighborhood at minimum a second pass for debris removal. Additional passes will be conducted as warranted, particularly in those neighborhoods that experienced both wind damage and severe flooding.

The county has also created a temporary resident debris drop-off site for Pine Islanders.

The county opened the site at Phillips Park near the island’s center at 5675 Sesame Drive, Bokeelia. Residents are asked to enter through Park Lane.

The site is for those who have the ability and desire to self-haul Hurricane Ian debris while awaiting roadside pickup. Residents must be able to unload their debris themselves; both vegetative and structural debris is accepted.

This site is limited to light-duty trucks and small trailers. No self-loading equipment is allowed, and loads are limited to 5 cubic yards per trip.

Be prepared to show identification and be a resident of unincorporated Lee County. Accepted forms of ID include driver’s license, utility bill, rental or lease agreement, or local business license. Residents will be asked to complete a waiver confirming the debris came from their property. Find the waiver at www.leegov.com/storm or get a waiver on site.

Site hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with a few exceptions due to the holidays. The site is open through Thursday, Dec. 22, and will reopen Tuesday, Dec. 27, through noon Saturday, Dec. 31. Then it will reopen for daily use Monday, Jan. 2.

Because Pine Island received catastrophic damage, the types and amounts of debris generated make removal a costly, complex and lengthy operation.

Hurricane Ian debris includes vegetation, common household garbage and personal belongings, construction and demolition debris, vehicles, food waste, white goods (e.g., household appliances, air conditioners), and household hazardous waste. Each category of debris must be managed in a way that protects people and the environment.

Sometimes it appears that collection has not occurred on a specific street on Pine Island, when in fact crews did pass through the area but new material was subsequently moved to the curb. This is the natural process after such a large storm event, and crews will continue to make passes until all the storm debris is gone. The county has inspectors surveying the area continuously and is now prioritizing areas where collection first occurred in October or early November.

More information is available at www.leegov.com/debris. To receive updates from Lee County Government, sign up for the newsletter here: www.leegov.com/resources/newsletters. Follow Lee County Government on Facebook, www.facebook.com/leecountyflbocc.

Lee County Solid Waste is requesting residents in some areas set all Hurricane Ian debris curbside by Tuesday, Jan. 3. This deadline allows county staff to better assess remaining needs for debris removal in these areas:

  • Briarcliff
  • Daniels Parkway corridor
  • Eagle Ridge
  • Florida Gulf Coast University / Miromar areas
  • Gasparilla Island / Boca Grande
  • San Carlos Park
  • The Villas

CLOSED: Lee County has also shut two public drop-off debris sites

Lee County previously requested residents of Lehigh Acres and Gateway to get their debris curbside by Dec. 16.

Residents of other areas in unincorporated Lee County do not yet have a deadline for debris set out. The county’s debris-hauling contractor will continue collections of storm debris. Residents are reminded to place green vegetation out for their regular yard-waste collection, which occurs weekly.

If you live in a city, check with your municipality about debris-hauling schedules. Lee County’s hurricane debris hauler will continue collections during the holidays using reduced staffing and will resume full staffing following New Year’s weekend.

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